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Your Take: Do You Budget?

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Clever Way to BudgetToday’s Your Take will be simple… do you budget? If so, what tools do you use?

If you don’t, why not?

I no longer budget in the strict sense. When I first started working, I budgeted and tracked all my expenses down to the penny in an Excel spreadsheet. This was before the days of tools like Mint or Quicken Online where you could use a free tool and get instant data aggregation (that would’ve been nice!), so I just entered things into a simple Excel spreadsheet. Then, perhaps a year or so later, I abandoned it because the benefits had started to wane.

Once you get to a certain point, when your expenses are stable and you’ve “optimized” your budget as much as you can, the effort no longer justify the benefits. Today, I do “after-action” type budgeting where I look at my expenses to see if anything is extraordinary or if a certain category has been creeping up (usually it’s the dining out vs. grocery bill categories constantly battling one another). Other than that, I don’t.

How about you?

(Photo by kevincortopassi)

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37 Responses to “Your Take: Do You Budget?”

  1. Craig Ford says:

    My wife and I are debt free and we still budget. We use an excel spreadsheet and do somethings on Quicken. We are actually in the process of trying to find a simpler way to budget, but we hope we will always budget in one form or another.

  2. My wife and I have been strict budgeters for years. I track every penny in Microsoft Money, thought that’s going to have to change shortly. To your point though Jim, I don’t spend as much time budgeting now that our income and expenses aren’t in as much flux as before. But we still review together our month-to-date expenditures once a week.

  3. CardMaster says:

    I do the exact same thing – my mother always beat it into my head that I had to track every single expense by hand. And she does. But with technology, it seems like a waste of time. I look at my statement and have spotted several fishy items that I either investigated or disputed successfully.

    And as far as controlling my spending habits, I think the mystery is a better method. I get anxious about how much money I have an how much I should be spending and I think I may be a bit more paranoid than I would be if I knew how much I could really afford. I think twice about more purchases simply out of uncertainty, rather than by budgeting.

  4. MichaelM says:

    We mostly budget. I say mostly, because one of our categories is “Credit Card”. The Credit Card category is where food, fun and most other non-fixed expenses come out of.

    We’ve tried several budgeting methods over the years, and this is the closest my wife and I have come to successfully planning expenses. Neither of us is any good at tracking receipts or updating a balance book. We are good at checking how much has been charged to the CC though, and we limit ourselves when we get close to our monthly self-imposed limit.

    The non Credit Card categories include fixed expenses (mortgage, retirement, savings, student loan, car payment, insurance, cell phone plan, etc.)

    I figure as long as we are meeting our obligations and goals, we should be able to spend the rest how we want, right?

  5. zapeta says:

    I do budget, but the only tool I use is Excel. I basically do it the way that Jim used to…track everything to the penny, etc. It helps me be in control and know exactly where my money is going. I find that when I’m not budgeting its easy for expenses to get out of control quickly.

  6. MichaelM says:

    In regards to you’re doing, zapeta, is that considered budgeting? I would consider that tracking, since it sounds like you are tracking expenses after the fact.

    I think of budgeting as planning ahead of time, and then checking afterwards if you stuck with the plan.

    Tracking is important, since you can’t budget for the future without knowing where you currently are, but I’m not convinced that they are the same thing.

    • zapeta says:

      Yes, you are right, lol. I use a zero balance budget method, so I know exactly what I bring in each month and where it is all allocated. The tracking is a very important part of the whole equation. Even though I’ve been using the same method for quite a while, I find that if I stop tracking/budgeting I can get off track pretty easily.

  7. superch665 says:

    I use Quicken, but I can’t say I actually “budget”. I don’t really have a strict plan although I do tuck money into 401K, Emergency Savings, Medical Savings Acct, Daycare and transportation accounts, etc. and i’m somewhat frugal or at least not a big spender. It’s working out okay so far (money in the bank, can pay the bills) but I keep saying when I get married I will try to get more control.

  8. I created a simple Excel sheet to track my expenses. I have a list of fixed expenses and then some more broad categories of variable expenses with allotted money per month for each category. If I find myself going over in one, I usually try to cut down in another. I’ve been doing this for a year and a half. So far it works for me!

  9. fern says:

    Never have, but i have been tracking expenses for years.

  10. Mr. Bee says:

    My wife and I are totally debt free, including owning our house without mortgage. We keep track of every expenses on Microsoft Money (which I will have to convert to Quicken soon). We don’t budget, but we review our expenses. We are both frugal, so it is a lot easier.

    Similar to you, we do mostly “after-action” review. We also review our goals every year. I also have presentation to my wife every 6 months and show her where she can find all important information in the case of unexpected things.

  11. dilbert69 says:

    I don’t really budget, but I do keep an eye on spending, and I make sure to save and stay debt-free other than the mortgage.

  12. Neil says:

    I keep a rough budget in my head. I keep intending to spend more time on putting it down on paper, but I never do. But I do track every penny (Using Quicken, as I have been since I was 15), because when I’m making unusual purchasing decisions, I want to know exactly how my month is shaping up.

  13. freeby50 says:

    I’ve always used simple Excel sheets myself. I used to track expenses to minute detail but gave up on that after a couple years. Now that I’m married I use Excel to track expenses again but not very detailed. We kind of have budgets for certain things but its not hard fast rule, but more like guidelines we’d like to stay within. Mostly we just track spending and make sure it doesn’t get too high in one area or another.

  14. eric says:

    I generally know where my money goes but not to the exact dollar or cent.

  15. El Gaupo says:

    I used to budget and kept really detailed records about spending (Microsoft Money) but these days I don’t bother. My bills are fairly consistent these days, I don’t spend much money outside of the necessities and I know what goes out and when. The benefits of being disciplined about spending (and saving) I guess.

  16. cpwilson5 says:

    I use Excel and Mint.com. Eventually once our income and expenses somewhat stabalize through new jobs/house/etc I plan on solely using Mint.com. It’s been about 9 months since we got married and the budget has helped a lot with just simple formulas in Excel “=5+8+9″ we are able to maintain it fairly quickly plus I like being able to mess with different pieces of the data.

    But I agree with you Jim eventually I suspect that the value of my time will increase and I won’t have as much time to work via Excel (thank goodness for Mint.com and automation). Most of our expenses are automated and we use Costco’s American Express to purchase just about everything (as long as we budget we are able to stay fairly safe and thus far not carry a balance). Hope that continues!

  17. Jacqui says:

    I never have done a traditional budget. But I’ve tracked every penny going in and out since Jan ’08. Instead of budgeting, I forecast – plug in all the known future bills, planned savings, plus some padding each month. If the forecast goes negative I know it’s time to cut back somewhere (on optional savings, restaurant meals, or discretionary spending on ‘toys’).

    If my lifestyle allowed for regular income and regular expenses, I would probably follow a traditional budget. But both categories vary wildly week to week and month to month in our household.

  18. StephaniePTY says:

    I track everything in one excel spreadsheet, like a big check register that spans all of my accounts. I project some future spending by putting it further down in the register, before the total. But I don’t track categories or anything. I just make sure that the big stuff (including several savings goals) is taken care of.

  19. Julio says:

    My wife and I are like most that have posted here. We use a combination of Finance Software (Quicken) and Spreadsheets to track our budget, but just like Jim, it’s after the fact that we go back and see if any one category stood out. After a couple of years of strictly tracking and sticking to the budget, we sort of run on auto-pilot now.

  20. Amber says:

    I always maintain a spreadsheet for the ‘must pays’ every month. Only a couple of things are on auto withdrawal because I like to have control over when the money transfers out. I also only get paid once a month so I do this thing with Quicken where I enter in all the bills for the month as soon as I get paid and only work off the amount left over when all is said and done.

    It really frustrates me when people forget to pay me for something that they are supposed to monthly because ‘they don’t get a bill’ so they don’t remember. Me, I have everything I need to pay monthly written down so I know what I have to pay and don’t forget anything.

    Also it was handy when my roommate became unemployed, I was able to see quickly whether or not I could afford to cover rent and bills should her unemployment either not come through, or run out.

    Even once I’m debt free, I can’t imagine not keeping track of what’s going in/out in some fashion.

  21. I currently use a self created budget spreadsheet. It’s taken me a year or so to get it the way I want it. I keep wavering on whether or not I want to continue to maintain it. Like you, I know about how much I spend each month.
    - Single Guy Money

  22. Michael says:

    I don’t budget because it takes too much time and I am too anal about money if I let myself get carried away. My coping strategy is to only check my balances no more than once every couple days. At the beginning of the month I put away money in my savings that I don’t touch except for a true emergency. I have my life insurance, disability, 401K, student loans, mortgage all automatically deducted. I live pretty frugally and don’t buy anything new that I don’t really need other than allowing us to eat out whenever we want. I try and keep a buffer of about $5,000 in the checking account and if it dips below that before the end of the month I check the balance every day and make sure not to go much lower. I was really poor growing up and ate top ramen for many, many meals. So good food is a luxury that I enjoy and choose to afford. I do the screening of the credit card at the end of the month to make sure that there are not any bogus charges (I find one or two a year). The time it takes to keep all your receipts and record everything just seems like a waste of time if you don’t have trouble controlling your spending. It you are cutting it close to the wire every month and not saving enough money than it probably is worth the time to figure out where every penny is going and how to maximize an appropriate savings.

  23. Brian says:

    I budget very strictly. I used to have a spreadsheet with everything on it, but..it became corrupted and lost all that data. I currently use three financial site, Quicken, Mint and Moneystrands. The reason I use all three is they combine to have all the features I want, but neither alone has everything.

    The last few months though have been a challenge. Being unemployed and having major car repairs come up has left me in quite a bit of credit card debt and made it really tough to budget out the usual expenses along with paying down the debt. At the end of the month, I take my statements and by hand calculate what goes towards paying down debt and what will I have for the next month. There’s something about physically writing it out that lets me get a better idea of what my money is doing.

  24. Glenn Lasher says:

    We sort of budget.

    I have a spreadsheet made out that shows either (a) what I’ve been billed for that’s due in the next two weeks or (b) what I estimate I’m going to be billed for it. The estimates get gradually replaced with real numbers as they become available. Most of the time, these estimates are above the actual bill.

    The spreadsheet uses formulas to calculate the estimates, and are based either on the 12-month maximum or the 12-month average, with a handful of exceptions (my power and gas bill, for instance, is based on the three-month average centred around 12 months ago, plus 5%).

    At the end of it, that number is subtracted from my paycheque, and another $500 is subtracted to cover groceries, gasoline, and other household necessities.

    Next, if my reserve fund is under $100, it gets topped up. This is used to cover small mistakes, and is kept in the chequing account as a form of overdraft protection.

    Whatever is left then goes into my debt snowball.

    So, as I say, I sort of budget. I know how much to expect to pay on billed items well in advance (that spreadsheet runs out to December 2010, and will be extended to December 2011 in January) but I don’t really budget the individual things like groceries, gasoline, entertainment, etc, except as a big lump.

  25. Chris Chan says:

    I guess I budget my phone use because a few months back I got a prepaid phone, It cost $30 a month for 1,000 minutes of talk and 1,000 texts and it’s great. Straight Talk is what it’s called. It uses Verizon’s network too but it’s not from Verizon. Bought it online from their website though it’s also in some Walmarts. Haven’t seen any ads for it but its great!

    So ys, I budget without budgeting, LOL.


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